The First Paragraph: Foundation Stone of the Novel

English: Red sunrise over Oostende, Belgium
Nature does beginning’s right: dawn, Oostende, Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The conventional wisdom is to write, write, write both because you can always revise later and because you’ll never finish a novel if you don’t get going but I’ve pitched that out the window on my current project. I may yet regret it but for my last novel, after some basic planning, I launched into it and then spent many drafts, major and minor, fixing the first half. To this day, my readers love the second half and while they now like the first half, it doesn’t quite grab them like the second part. Needless to say, that isn’t really an ideal situation because no agent is going to read through to get to the “really good part.”

So for this project, I’ve resisted the urge to get going. I’ve spent the time to write a good synopsys, really thought through the characters and now I am in the process of hammering out a good openning paragraph before digging into chapter one. Odds are it won’t even be my final version but I’ve learned from earlier efforts: the first paragraph is the cornerstone of the whole novel so this time, I start with a strong one. If it gets reworked into something even better later, great.

While at times frustrating, it’s been a surprisingly fun process. I just jot down thoughts in OneNote, play around with them, mull over ideas on walks or in the shower. Like the synopsis it forces you to destill your plot to its core and then get creative about ways to grab the reader while hinting at what the book is about.

Earlier drafts have been elegantly written but not catching. This morning while in the shower I think I finally settled on a good formulation. Mulling it over while fixing French toast for my youngest before school, I dashed off take some notes while the first side of the toast cooked. The toasted burned to my wife’s amusement (“Michael, the French toast didn’t work out; we’re having pancakes”) but I think it’s finally coming together.